In a landmark move for LGBT+ and gender rights worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has passed a new legislation that no longer categorises being transgender as a mental health condition. However, on 25 May 2019 this policy was finally changed at the 72nd session of the WHO Assembly in Geneva.
The declassification of the WHO policy will now remove the ability of governments to use discriminatory policies requiring transgender people to have a medical ‘diagnosis’ before being able to legally change their name and identity.
Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch said:
“The WHO’s removal of ‘gender identity disorder’ from its diagnostic manual will have a liberating effect on transgender people worldwide.”
‘Governments should swiftly reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis.’
In an interview with International Observatory of Human Rights, Andi Maratos CEO of Chrysalis ‘Gender Identity Matters’ a charity that supports transgender people and their significant others,
“This is fantastic news for trans people worldwide. A clear statement that gender identity and gender diversity are simply aspects of the human experience and not mental disorders. By changing the terminology to Gender Incongruence the WHO are working to help social acceptance and remove the stigma previously associated with being trans.
Many of the people Chrysalis* works with continue to experience bullying, harassment, poor treatment and hate crime as a direct result of the stigma and misunderstandings around the experience of being transgender. This leads to poor mental health, low self esteem and for many it inhibits or prevents their transition.
Sharing positive news such as this gets the message out to everyone that it is OK to be trans, breaking down those barriers caused by lack of understanding and improving the rights and wellbeing of trans people everywhere.
Chrysalis welcomes this separation of legal gender identity recognition from medical intervention and looks forward to a time when all nations follow the lead of Malta and Ireland in supporting trans people’s human rights.”**
Background of the policy
The article classifying being transgender as a mental health condition, was initially written into WHO’s ‘International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11)’. In 2014 their policy/practice was examined by a working group of medical scientists from the U.S, France, Switzerland, Bahrain, Brazil and South Africa. The review findings concluded that the category of diseases related to sexual orientation should be declassified. The category is known as ‘F66’ or “Psychological and behavioural disorders associated with sexual development and orientation”. The findings concluded:
“The Working Group recommends that the F66 grouping of categories entitled “Psychological and behavioural disorders associated with sexual development and orientation” be deleted in its entirety from ICD-11.”
A 2016 report from the World Health Organisation showed that there was growing recognition of transgender health, but that a number of challenges still remained,
“Stigma, discrimination and lack of legal recognition remain major barriers for transgender people to access the health services they need.”
Human rights abuses towards transgender people
Sadly, today gender and sexual orientation still has a bearing on an individual’s fundamental rights. Transgender people face high rates of discrimination, with a UK government survey revealing that only 35% of trans people generally feel ‘comfortable’ being LGBT in the UK. Between 2007 and 2014, 1,731 murders of transgender people were recorded globally. Many were of a shockingly brutal nature, sometimes involving torture and mutilation.
Within the LGBT community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that,
‘47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.’
LGBT+ rights around the world
The abuses towards transgender people are further entrenched by a number of shocking policies enforced by leaders of countries such as the US, Brazil and Hungary, that have seen these countries ‘moving backwards’ on equality policies for the first time in decades.
Just last week in the US, the Trump administration rolled back on gender rights with a bill that could erase medical protections implemented during the Obama presidency. If implemented, the Department of Health and Human Services’s proposed regulation would discriminate against transgender medical patients and health insurance customers.
A new report conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Europe, found that regression was specifically seen in countries revoking existing laws and policies. Countries such as Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo and Bulgaria changed or revoked policies that took a backstep for LGBT rights in recent times.
“Sadly, this year, we see concrete evidence of roll-back at political and legislative levels in a growing number of countries,” ILGA-Europe’s executive director, Evelyne Paradis, said.
Valerie Peay, Director of International Observatory of Human Rights responded to the news,
“This marks a turning point for LGBT rights as a whole and represents what we hope will become a positive trend for greater equality for all members of the LGBT community worldwide.”
* Chrysalis supports transgender and questioning people, their close friends and families to explore the impacts gender diversity has had on their life through counselling, workshops and facilitated group work
** this is a reference to Ireland and Malta allowing self-declaration of gender identity to change your legal identity.